Asymmetric short-term adaptation of the vertical vestibulo-ocular reflex in humans
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Anatomical and electrophysiological studies have demonstrated up–down asymmetries in vertical ocular motor pathways. We investigated whether these asymmetries extend to the capacity for short-term adaptation of the vertical vestibulo-ocular reflex (VVOR) in humans. Specifically, we asked whether smooth pursuit signals are sufficient to asymmetrically adapt the VVOR. Healthy human subjects (N=8), positioned 90° left-ear-down and fixating with their eyes upon a small laser dot (diameter: 0.1°) projected on a sphere (distance: 1.4 m) were trained toward low VVOR gain for 30 min with symmetric and asymmetric visual VVOR cancellation paradigms, while being oscillated (0.2 Hz, ±20°) on a motorized turntable about the interaural earth-vertical axis. During asymmetric VVOR cancellation, the target was head-fixed in either the pitch-up or pitch-down half-cycles of oscillation (=trained direction) and space-fixed during the other half-cycles (=untrained direction). During symmetric VVOR cancellation, the target was head-fixed throughout the oscillations. Before and after adaptation, the pitch-up and pitch-down VOR gains were assessed during turntable oscillation in complete darkness. Before adaptation, average gains of pitch-up (0.75±0.15 SD) and pitch-down (0.79±0.19 SD) VOR were not significantly different (paired t test: P>0.05). On an average, relative gain reductions induced by selective pitch-up (pitch-up VOR: 32%; pitch-down VOR: 21%) and pitch-down (pitch-up VOR: 18%; pitch-down VOR: 30%) VOR cancellation were significantly (P<0.05) larger in the trained than in the untrained direction. Symmetric visual VVOR cancellation led to a significantly (P<0.01) larger relative gain reduction of the pitch-down (41%) than the pitch-up (33%) VOR. None of the paradigms led to significant changes of phase or offset. We conclude that, in human subjects, the smooth pursuit system is capable to asymmetrically decrease the gain of the VVOR equally well in both the upward and downward direction. The unexpected asymmetric decrease of the VVOR gain after symmetric visual cancellation may be related to the directional preferences of vertical gaze–velocity sensitive Purkinje cells in the flocculus for the downward direction.
KeywordsSmooth Pursuit Gain Reduction Adaptation Paradigm Asymmetric Adaptation Internuclear Ophthalmoplegia
The authors thank Dr. T. Haslwanter for his valuable comments; T. Schmückle, E. Schafflützel, and A. Züger for technical assistance.
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